As we reach the 75th anniversary of VE Day, The Henley College looks back to the Second World War and its early years in residence at Rotherfield Court.
The Henley College has over 400 years of history, beginning with the foundation of the Free Grammar School of King James 1 in 1604. By the early twentieth century, the Grammar School was a well-established institution in Henley and in 1928 moved premises to Rotherfield Court, now known as Rotherfield. With this move, Henley Grammar School (HGS) also opened its doors to female students for the first time.
Rotherfield Court, built in 1861, had been a family owned manor house until 1921 when it was converted into a hospital for shell-shocked officers from the First World War. The rambling property was able to accommodate fifty-one patients in thirty-one bedrooms, each equipped with hot and cold water.
After the move to Rotherfield Court, HGS grew rapidly and by the beginning of the Second World War there were around 400 students in attendance.
Pictured above is the HGS 1st Rugby Team on the eve of war 1939, no doubt most would have joined the forces and some may never have returned. Mr Potter, the senior mathematics and games master, is standing centre back. He left the school to join the Navy in 1941. After his ship was sunk in 1942, he spent three years as a prisoner of war in the Far East, before returning to HGS. His return was said to instil a new ‘fierce purposefulness’ into rugby and cricket at the school.
Between 1939 and 1945, HGS shared its premises at Rotherfield with 200 evacuees from North Kensington Central School, and from 1941 they were also joined by pupils of the Royal Alexandra School, Bishop’s Wood. Each day was carefully timetabled to ensure students had adequate time for schooling, games and practical subjects.
The school was guided throughout the difficult years of war by their longstanding Headmaster, Mr Barnes, who was in post from 1934 to 1957. Mr Barnes kept a diary during this period which records such activities as air raid drills and prayers.
Tragically, yet inevitably, there were many members of the school community who lost their lives during the Second World War. The Rolls of Honour for both World Wars still hang on display in the main Rotherfield building.
Today, The Henley College continues to educate students at Rotherfield, with a second site on Deanfield Avenue. We are extremely proud of our stunning campuses and wonderful students. As part of our broad and diverse curriculum, we offer Public Services courses, from which some students have progressed to careers in the Armed Forces, as well as healthcare and the Police Force. Find out more about Public Services and our other courses on offer for September here >>
Sadly, due to the current situation we cannot be together physically as a college community to celebrate the 75th anniversary of VE Day. We would however love to hear from any current staff and students, or alumni, with their photographs or stories of how they are marking this very special occasion. Email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit our Facebook page to share your news.